this weekend, people who follow in the way of christ celebrate a very pivotal and unparalleled day known, of course, as easter. over the last several weeks, in conjunction with the lead-up to easter, there’s been quite a bit of social and cultural commentary related to matters of faith.
my office is a great place because it’s sort of a microcosm of society and culture. while we have a lot of young people (my age-ish) with sort of urban sensibilities, we have varying ages, backgrounds and religious persuasions. i really enjoy the conversation and interaction (and those who i work with would affirm the fact that i particularly enjoy an abundance of conversation and interaction…back to work, ryan…). no doubt, working in my office is one of the most unbelievable blessings in terms of the planning and formation of eikon. i’ve said it many times, but i see—particularly with people in my generation (20/30-somethings)—a deep and insightful engagement and dialogue about faith and spirituality. it doesn’t necessarily look like “orthodox” christianity (whatever that is…), but it’s certainly a thoughtful and helpful conversation.
today, for whatever reason, there was a particularly high amount of religious conversation that i either engaged in or overheard (i would call it eavesdropping, but that seems to imply putting forth an effort to secretly overhear conversations…in our office, overhearing conversations is a regular and ongoing reality due to our open layout…ok, just making sure you knew i wasn’t the guy who puts the cup up to the cubicle next to me or anything creepy like that…). 🙂 i thought i would share a few of those conversations and offer a bit of insight.
1. a friend (coworker) was commenting on a word in a song lyric from their worship service this past weekend. the word was “foretaste” and is from the line oh, what a foretaste of glory divine from the old hymn blessed assurance (written by fanny crosby in 1873). specifically, she was saying that she thought it sounded gross (it insinuated something very different than a word describing god…) and wondered who the heck uses the word foretaste. we went further in questioning words like “ebenezer” (come, thou fount) and “cleft” (rock of ages).
what was most interesting about this conversation was that she—while having a somewhat religious background—doesn’t really have a “mainstream” christian background that included traditional hymns (or any kinds of modern worship music, for that matter). so, all this is new to her. in conjunction with the conversation about weird words in church music, she also expressed feeling uncomfortable and confused during communion. she indicated that many people knew what to do, but that she felt uncomfortable having very little frame of reference for that type of ritual.
our conversations and her thoughts illustrated that to unchurched or “little-churched” people, the things we say and do and sing in church can be very confusing. worse than confusing, though, is that it can be very uncomfortable and off-putting to people. certainly, i think there’s a place (a somewhat needed place) for a sense of mystery and something beyond us, but it can be done in the context of being explained and inviting to those who may have no context to understand. further, i think the purpose of the church is to create an environment that reaches out and welcomes those who aren’t yet followers of christ—not confuses them and uses some kind of foreign and strange language, thus creating a needless barrier.
2. whereas the first conversation occurred with someone who is generationally on the same plane as me, the other conversation of interest was with someone who, literally, could easily be my mother (now, she would be a cool mother, but still, she could be my mother…). we talked about how she got involved with a bible study several years ago and that through this bible study, she was encouraged to take steps toward leadership. so, it was a bit of her sharing some of her spiritual journey over the last several years through really digging into the bible and becoming committed and serious about personal discovery.
much like my coworker in the first story, this coworker has a somewhat limited past in the church in terms of a committed journey. i gathered that she’s been connected—either regularly or intermittently—to the church for much of her life, but that through this bible study, this is her first introduction into a “studied” form of christianity. (let me pause and say that i may be completely misrepresenting her life in the church, but these were my inferences. so, i could be wrong.)
as our conversation progressed, she disclosed the fact that she doesn’t regularly attend church, but that she was open to the idea. what struck me, though, was specifically the fact that she expressed that she thinks churches should “talk about god more.” wow. that’s a pretty confronting statement. i didn’t get a chance to follow up on her statement, but i was able to read into it a little. (of course, again, i could be completely misreading her intent.)
for quite some time in the church—especially “contemporary” churches—there seems to have been a complete focus on “life application” preaching that really straddles the line between biblical teaching and “holy self-help”. now, by all means, i think preaching and teaching in the church should lead to action, but i don’t think that means merely spouting off three life principles and throwing in a couple verses of scripture. at the same time, i don’t think it necessarily means getting up and give an hour-long theological diatribe. i think what she was getting at is that people want to explore the nature of god. people want theology. i don’t mean theology as some kind of exclusive, confusing sludge of information, but as something that engages people with a god who is relevant and self-applicable.
so, it was good day of engaging dialogue about faith that showed some great perspectives from people outside the religion and church bubble. i hope to further these conversations with people, so maybe i’ll have more to report back with.